3 Tricks to Speeding Up Lightroom

January 14, 2016

By Greg Scoblete

We often spend hours in Lightroom, though not always by choice. Lightroom can slow down over time, even for those with state-of-the-art PCs. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do under the hood to get Lightroom humming along again. Don’t worry, you don’t need to crack open your PC, update your RAM or buy anything new. 

1. Optimize Your Catalog 

This is the simplest step to improving Lightroom’s performance: Navigate to File > Optimize Catalog and Lightroom will clean up unnecessary items hiding in the catalog file that could be impairing performance. To keep it optimized, be sure to select Test Integrity Before Backing Up and Optimize The Catalog After Backing Up when you exit Lightroom in order to prevent files from clogging up the catalog in the future. This will tack on some extra time during shut down, but it will improve efficiency while you work.

2. Increase the Camera RAW Cache

Every time you view or edit RAW images in the Develop module, Lightroom generates high-quality previews using the original image data stored in its Camera RAW Cache. The more data you store in that cache, the quicker Lightroom can generate previews. By default, Lightroom allots 1GB of storage to the Camera RAW Cache, which fills up pretty quickly. Adobe suggests bumping up the cache to 20GB or even higher to improve performance. Navigate to Preferences > File Handling (Fig. 1). You’ll see an option to type in the desired cache size toward the bottom of the dialog window. If things are still moving slowly, you can assign even more disk space to the cache.

Smart Previews can turn 14GB of RAW image data into about 400MB of Smart Previews.

3. Edit Smart Previews

Video editors are very familiar with the use of proxy files—rather than edit the massive files generated by video cameras directly (and thus grind their computers to dust), they work on so-called proxies of the original that are smaller in size but retain all the critical image information. They keep the originals off their computer, on external drives. When the edits are done, the proxy files can be synced to the original, transferring all the edits to the full-sized files.

Lightroom’s Smart Previews offer a similar functionality. Adobe says, for example, that Smart Previews can turn 14GB of RAW image data into about 400MB of Smart Previews. Better still: just about any edit you make to your original RAW photo can be made to a Smart Preview (no stitching panoramas or compiling HDR images, though). 

You can select “build Smart Previews” when importing images so that Lightroom will generate them automatically. Alternatively, if you’ve already imported the originals, you can generate them by entering Library > Previews > Build Smart Previews (Fig. 2).

Once you’ve created Smart Previews of your original RAW images, you’ll need to remove those RAW images from Lightroom so you’re only working on the Previews. The easiest way to do this is to keep the original files safe on a removable drive—then you’ll be able to make edits to your Smart Previews while the originals are offline and not gumming up the works. When you’re ready to apply those edits to your originals, simply reconnect your external drives and Lightroom will sync it for you. Now all that’s left for you to do is figure out how you’re going to spend all that extra time.

Related: Lightroom Mobile Will Change How You Do On-the-Go Workflow 

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